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the sexes

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When Henry Goldbeck sits down with three female employees at Goldbeck Recruiting Inc. to talk about a recent survey that concluded women are harder working and more honest than men, he's the first to admit he agrees with the findings.

"If women have made it to a certain level, they've earned it and continue to earn it," the Vancouver-based personnel consultant says. "I meet far more men who have floated up to that level. As a guy I think you can float a lot easier."

Mr. Goldbeck is weighing in on a study called Report on Workplace Culture: Does Gender Matter? conducted by theFit, a Boston-based website that conducts anonymous surveys about companies' cultures for the benefit of job seekers.

The survey of 5,250 full-time professionals found that women work longer hours than men, with the number who work six to seven days a week at 11 per cent, compared with 7 per cent for men. More than half of the women reported working nine or more hours a day, compared with 41 per cent of men.

In addition, 68 per cent of women said they work on vacation, including checking e-mail and taking calls, compared with 62 per cent of men. Women also came across as more honest: While one in five men lie when they call in "sick," only one in seven women said they did the same.

But are women really better all-around employees than men? Aren't we past this kind of talk? Some say the argument serves only to reinforce gender stereotypes. Others are happy to explore the divide.

"More men than women can get away with being opportunist or mercenary," says Mr. Goldbeck, who's one of two men at his company of eight. "Once you succeed and get to that next level, I don't think women are able to take it for granted as much as men; there's still that history of being discriminated against."

One possible reason women work harder than men is because they feel they need to compensate for so-called perks that help them juggle career and family, says Vivian Fung, a sales and marketing recruiter at Goldbeck.

"Women sometimes need a more flexible schedule, so they feel they need to make up for that," Ms. Fung says. "They feel they need to work harder and don't want to take any chances."

Jennifer Berdahl, professor of organizational behaviour at Toronto's Rotman School of Management, says that if in fact women do work longer hours, it's partly because there's more pressure on them to prove themselves.

"Assuming these answers reflect reality, it's not terribly surprising for a lower status group in the workplace to make up for it by working longer, being more available on vacation, feeling grateful for what they do get, feeling like perhaps their jobs are more precarious," Ms. Berdahl says. "So perhaps they have to put more into them and be honest about taking sick days. ... You might observe similar things with racial minority groups."

Also, men in general feel more entitled than women do, she adds. "There have been experiments that will have women and men do the exact same thing, some tedious task, and women will pay themselves less than men and rate themselves lower. There's a real difference in that 'what I deserve, what I'm entitled to' psychology."

Even explanations for a job well done differ between men and women, Ms. Berdahl notes.

"Someone might perform really well at something, and the response will be, 'She worked really hard' or 'She had a lot of help,' while for men it's 'He's brilliant.'"

Julia MacKenzie, an IT recruiter at Goldbeck, attributes women being less likely to lie partly to feelings of guilt.

"I keep a log of how many sick days I take a year," she says. "If I had five sick days in a year I would think that's too many, and if I were to go past it I would feel really guilty. I don't think I know any man who would monitor that."

But workplace culture plays a far greater role in performance and productivity than gender, Ms. MacKenzie says. "Having a boss you can approach about things is really helpful," she says.

Ms. Berdahl doesn't necessarily buy the bit about women being more honest when it comes to calling in sick.

"There's a social response bias in surveys; people will respond in ways that they think are socially expected of them," she says. "If you ask a man and a woman, 'Are you scared of a tiger?' a man is less likely to say he's scared."

Ellen Auster, professor of strategic management at York University's Schulich School of Business, says that the whole idea of classifying people by gender plays down their contributions, strengths and experiences, aspects that are far more important and relevant to job performance.

"Whenever I see this still happening in 2012 – 'women do this, women do that' – I think it creates a negative impact because it continues the segmentation of the work force by gender," Ms. Auster says.

"It's bad for women and it's bad for men when we start stereotyping," she adds. "It can create resentment and backlash among men and women who don't align with the stereotype. For example, a man might see this data and say, 'Wait a minute, I work long hours, I work hard.' Presenting this type of data reinforces gender stereotypes when we're trying to move away from stereotypes."

For Mr. Goldbeck, one of the most vivid illustrations of how gender plays out in the workplace hit him about three decades ago, when his wife was working as a diesel mechanic at a heavy-equipment company.

"She went through a lot," he says. "Guys resented her and tested her. I couldn't see her saying, 'I'm just going to pretend to be sick.' She was already under pressure to perform.

"It might be a few generations yet before women turn out to be jerks just like men."